At this national conference in San Francisco, I knew that lots of people would be interested in how Joyce “turned out,” so I planned my conference attire carefully. I know it sounds silly, but what else can you control besides your presentation? I orchestrated my 4 days at the conference to represent Joyce (or different parts of Joyce) accurately and professionally, not too frilly and not too butch. What I was hoping was that friends and colleagues would recognize the old me in the new presentation.

I began with black cord pants, tailored white dress shirt with stitching that resembles whale boning, and a sharp black and white jacket, along with patent black shoes. Second day was black/white wool dress slacks with a silk green blouse, no jacket, reprising the patent shoes. Third day was my big day, the day I was supposed to announce to a ballroom filled with participants the results of the committee I chaired this year, selecting the best dissertation of the year in my field. I chose a suit with a knee-length skirt and long jacket, subtle pinstripes of deep red, brown, and cream, and a dark red shell, along with brown heels and sheer black stockings. On the 4th and final day of the conference, I chose a brown-themed knee-length skirt and circle patterned blouse (red, gold, black, tan), and my brown heels with chocolate brown tights.

All four of these outfits were comfortable and served me well from early morning all day, well into the night. I cannot speak for others and how they perceived me, but for my own part, I feel these outfits helped me do what I wanted to do.

I got a bunch (75+) of fatty lumps (lipomas) removed last Thursday from my arms, legs, and torso, and it was done under general anesthesia. Some were small, but most were large, like flattened golf balls, and the result is that I’m very tender, especially around the waist.

What does this have to do with wardrobe?

Everything, because I simply cannot tolerate anything with a belt or a tight waist, probably for a couple of weeks. So when I talked this over with Mary Jo, she said, “One word: jumpers!” and proceeded to pull a variety of the garb out of our closet. My first impression, once I was wearing a long sleeve sweater to cover my arm-bandages, and once I had draped the jumper over my frame, was that I had suddenly become an elementary school teacher or maybe a granola-crunching NPR reporter.

My carefully-cultivated classic Ann Taylor look notwithstanding, I ventured out into the world with an oatmeal-colored sweater and dark green jumper, accompanied with low-heeled boots. Fashionable? I think that’s debatable. Comfortable? Absolutely, and that’s something that began growing on me within hours of interacting with people. “This is a look I could actually live with,” I found myself saying, “Maybe not all the time, but it’s fast and comfortable and not nearly the embarrassment I expected it to be.” Chalk it up to a severely limited repertoire of clothing images I hold in my imagination.

So for the next week, it’s jumpers and loose skirts whose tops can be worn either above or below my sensitive waist, mostly for the comfort, but partly for the experience of broadening the number of Joyce-performances there might be in the future.

Sometimes lately (and it’s not all the time), I don’t feel very real. You may laugh all you want and retort that I’m wrong, but what I’m feeling precisely is this: although I’ve left George far behind, I don’t feel particularly like Joyce (whatever that’s supposed to feel like). Naturally, one can’t force how one feels, but I wonder if part of the problem is the difference between what I imagined it would feel like to be Joyce and what it’s like actually being Joyce.

All outside observations aside, I find myself wondering what is the barrier to achieving that feeling, and it seems to me that such a feeling must be bound to be tied up in expectations. In other words, I wonder if I’m thinking of being Joyce as a choice between “either” and “or” (i.e. I’m either all woman, or I’m not real).

Logically, I find this all very funny because I know there is a large spectrum of reality between “all woman” and “nothingness,” and I tell myself I should just feel being myself right now, and be done with it. But this isn’t about logic, is it? It’s about feeling, and I can’t pinpoint whether this feeling comes from my head, my social circle, or my body, or maybe a bit of all three.

Let me be specific with you because this isn’t so much of an existential problem as a bodily one. What I know is that I am increasingly frustrated with my body, especially my hip-to-waist ratio. I guess I always pictured Joyce as voluptuous, but when my pants keep falling off of my non-hips (which is pretty funny when I look back on these events), I think I feel less than legitimate.

One voice in my head tells me that I have to try to let that frustration go, and embrace Joyce as she emerges because this feeling has nothing to do with trans*issues, but plain old body image issues. As I’ve learned from talking honestly with women this past year, everybody wishes she were just a little different: bustier, less hippy, thinner, and so on.

However, another voice tells me that my frustration (and my “let it go” remedy) isn’t nearly so clear cut, that while I’ve had years to imagine Joyce in a particular way, those imaginings were never terribly concrete, and that it’s perfectly fair to want the body to match the inner image.

The fact of the matter is that unless I want to have more surgeries, I may have to learn to live with what I’ve got. I will never have child-bearing hips from which to hang skirts and pants, but as my friend Violet often tells me, I have to learn to rock the body I’ve got. I like the sound of that — now I just need to learn how to do it.

After asking everyone I knew, after trying one of Mary Jo’s old one-piece suits, after studying catalogs, and after trying on swimming suits locally, I finally decided on this one from Lands’ End.

It looks good in the water and out of the water and is good for someone with my build. It’s conservative and does the job, especially considering I’m only going to be swimming in my own pool this summer. It’s nowhere as interesting as the one I thought might work for me in a previous blog post, but I began to really wonder how feasible that sort of thing would be for me this summer.

The important thing is not what sort of suit I’m wearing, but the fact that I feel ok with my body and that I’m spending time with Mary Jo and the boys in our swimming pool. It’s easy to get caught up in a clothing look, or a particular way of gesturing, or new makeup, but these family times together put everything back into perspective for me. This family is what is making my transition work, and I need to be reminded of that fact every time I think it’s all about me and only me.

Random thoughts on trousers

1. Capri pants — I used to think they were silly, perhaps trivial — maybe it was sexism on my part or just incredible ignorance. But I’m a convert. I don’t know why, in warm weather, anyone would wear pants down to their ankles except for protection or cultural reasons. As for me, the long-pants crowd is going to have to rip the capri’s out of my hands come fall, ’cause I’m not going quietly.

2. Variety — I don’t think most men actually fathom how many options there are in women’s trousers. For my own part, in my guy past, I remember distinctly believing in my 20’s that there were two, and only two varieties of trousers: Levi’s and khaki’s. I stand in a clothing store these days bewildered by all the options for women that don’t generally exist for men, like whether the tops are at the natural waist, just below the natural waist, hip-huggers, low-riders, or how much stretch you want, or the blend of fibers, or whether they’re lined or not, or how narrow or wide the bottoms, or pleats/pleatless, and so on and so on. Maybe all these options exist for men, and I was never aware of them, but I am certainly aware of them now.

3. Transsexuals can’t wear all the pant styles that cis-sexuals can — I’ve discovered this in many trips to the dressing room. There’s simply a … how shall I say it … a je ne sais quoi that makes many styles impossible. It might have something to do with tight crotches being incompatible with all the extra equipment I’m hauling around with me, at least for now. In marginal cases, Spanx can do the job, at least once your inner organs begin functioning again after the initial Spanx-squeeze. They wanted to sell me the “Power Panty” version at Chico’s, but I have to tell you that I have trouble taking anything seriously with a name like Power Panty. Give me Higher Power or regular briefs, please.

4. Having a man’s general build, I find that I’m quite frustrated by women’s pants, specifically the waist. I hike the pants up nice and high, and then (having no hips and no waist) they roll slowly down to the point where most men’s beltline is: below the beer belly. I get the impression that suspenders are not fashionable on women (and probably not on men unless they’re braces on power suits), so I’m left with the following plans: losing lots of weight, shaping my waist, or finding pants with belts or drawstrings (arggh, the thought really horrifies me, but maybe I’m thinking of earthy hemp pants). I can always hope that I’ll be the first transsexual in history to develop child-bearing hips, but that doesn’t seem like a reasonable fashion strategy.

5. There are many jokes about the difference in transsexuals and transvestites, but since they’re all inside jokes, I would have to kill you if I told you. Suffice to say that one way to tell at a support group with both populations present is that one group is wearing skirts/dresses and the other is wearing pants. ‘Nuff said.

At Malloy’s, a high-end clothing store in Bedford Falls, I have had a steady salesman named Bob Krume who has helped me for several years, and he writes me email from time to time about new suits they’ve received (this one from March, for example).

The other day, I received a paper letter from him saying that there was a big sale in late-May: if I bought a suit, I’d get around $1000 in merchandise in shirts, ties, trousers, and so on. Here is my email reply to him:

Bob, I hate to do this to you, but I'm going to need to change salespersons, not because you haven't been terrific, but because I'm in the midst of a sex change and will have to be shopping on the other side of the store. First, who is the Bob Krume of the women's side? And second, would my May Mayhem merchandise certificate you mailed me the other day be applicable on the other side of the store?
George Bailey, now known as Joyce George

I received a very nice email from Bob a couple of days later:

Good to hear from you. In my opinion Kelly Fires would be the salesperson to help you on the womens side as she is both knowledgeable and a soft sell like I am. As to the May Mayhem it is a promotion about Menswear Clothing and so would not transfer to the women's side of the store.
Bob Krume-Malloy's

So I write to Kelly

Kelly, I've been a long-time customer of Bob Krume on the other side of the store, but I'm in the middle of changing my sex, and I find I need suits and clothing of a different sort these days. I asked him who he would recommend, and he wrote back immediately that you would be the best person to work with.

I hope to come in and visit in June some time - I'm a professor and I've been wearing Italian suits and blazers the past 10 years, and would certainly like to continue.

And she writes back:

It is wonderful to hear from you. I am honored that Bob would recommend me. I am so excited to work with you. We have an amazing women's department that is full of beautiful clothes. I have few ideas with some intriguing lines such as Piazza Seipione, Etro, Lafayette 148 and many others. Please email me or call when you will be coming in and I will have some things pulled, or we can walk through the store together. Have a fantastic day!

Earlier in the season, I had seen one dress from Malloy’s catalog they had mailed me, a designer dress from LaFayette 148 that has struck my fancy, even though there’s nowhere to wear it. So when Kelly wrote me about the brand Lafayette 148, I wrote the following:

Thanks for your note, Kelly- I'm looking forward to dropping in. I saw some very nice things in your catalog, and even cut one out--from Lafayette 148--to hang on my wall, and I'm mentally ready to dive in.

And she replies:

Great to hear back from you. If you are referring to the green dress with the floppy hat, I have one of these dresses in stock currently. What size would you be? I am excited to meet you. Let me know how I can be of further assistance

and I get excited:

YES! That's the one! It's on my wall. I can't explain it, but it just speaks to me. So much so that I've been trying to figure out how to manufacture an event for me to wear it to!

I'm 5'9", 170 lbs, usually a size 12, but having been a man (and lots of transgender women are like this), I sometimes work better with 10 on the bottom and 14 on top, depending on how things are cut.

and she ends the dialog in classic salesgirl style:

Well you have amazing taste. The dress that I have in stock is unfortunately not your size but I have some other things that are. We can manufacture many events for many things trust me I have so many things in my closet that I say, "What will I ever wear this to." It seems that when the event arises I always have the right attire, while others are left in the wings searching frantically for the right thing to wear and then settling, instead of saying when they find a fabulous thing that looks great on them buying it and knowing that somewhere at some time they will wear the garment. Thanks for getting back to me. When you find looks of inspiration please tear them out and keep them they are always things that we can reference to find the perfect outfits. Thank you for choosing Malloy's. Let me know if you have any other ideas.

Dear Readers, before you write comments about how awful and trite and gaggy this whole thing is, let me tell you that I know I don’t really have amazing taste, and I know that Kelly’s enthusiasm comes from her anticipated sales commissions, and I know I’m being overly dramatic about this correspondence. But I also know that there is something beneficial that comes from recognizing a look that speaks to me, and I know that I feel like I’m making progress from corresponding with people honestly, and I know that I am never going to move any closer to an authentic sense of self without some form of experimentation–whether it’s cutting out pictures from catalogs or making up stories about myself or trying out many unsuccessful (and some successful) outfits.

These seem like harmless and reasonable forays into creating a new image that are probably necessary evils. But perhaps they could also be a little bit fun?

The last two weeks were quite difficult. Mary Jo’s father died and the boys and I flew to Columbus, Ohio, for the funeral. We also stayed with her grad school buddy Martina, her husband Cal, and their two kids. Several different times, either to Martina and Cal, or to me, or to other friends, Mary Jo repeated her fear that I would make poor choices in dress, jewelry, makeup, and general carriage, thus revealing myself to be frilly, girly, and frou-frou.

I have written about this before, and what I find myself feeling is stuck. I know there are all sorts of demeanor and fashion mistakes to be made, and I’m sure I will make them. I’m sure that I will also probably occasionally become over-exuberant, over-feminine, and overly-frou-frou, perhaps because that’s my nature or perhaps because of the newness of this project. I really can’t say. What makes me feel stuck isn’t the possibility of making mistakes or of revealing some sort of true nature, but rather finding myself between two strong desires.

On the one hand, I want to be my own self, taking firm steps in my becoming. On the other hand, I want acceptance from family and friends, and some of that acceptance means adhering to norms acceptable to them. I do not think such adherence means giving away power over my life, but I understand how blessed and grateful I am to have such accepting relationships, and I would be a fool to throw petulant choices in their faces after all we’ve been through.

So, standing here at the end of a long period of coming out, facing the two prongs of self-willed becoming and community driven norms, I find myself on plateau, neither backsliding nor moving ahead. Is this a permanent spot of confusion, or rather a resting spot before the next wave of becoming?